Stella refused to believe her mother was a criminal.
No matter how many times she’d overheard the whispers down the hall, no matter how many investigators had asked those painful questions, Stella could never be convinced. Every time Stella thought of her mother, it was too awful to comprehend.
Stella stormed down the marble hallway, pushing thoughts of her mother away. She needed coffee. Badly. Everything was on her nerves this mourning. Even the dress she wore...It was her mother’s favorite, awfully large and flamboyant: an absolute pain to wear. She hated it, but it had made her mother happy, and therefore it would make Stella happy.
“Mrs.Cunnings always looked like the criminal type” She heard a maidservant hiss in the hallway.”she always had those creepy dark eyes like beetles! Beetles I tell you!”
Stella stopped. Keep walking. Keep walking.
Stella turned to face them anyway, stumbling over a white ribbon hanging from her dress.
“Any other insect you’d like to compare to my mother?” She snapped, flashing her eyes at them.
Both the maid servants smirked. One had a hooked nose, and the other, a thin one.
“nice dress” Hooked nose laughed.
“must miss your mother” Thin nose snickered, looking her up and down.
Stella wanted to fire the lot of them.
However, they were no longer her maid servants, they were currently getting this month's salary from the investigations office. If her mother was convicted, Stella would be broke.
“Oh that reminds me—“ Hooked nose said, pulling out a key and handing it to Stella. “Your governess said to open the library and start reading Crime and Punishment”
Stella almost growled at the words Crime and Punishment.
She grabbed the key and tore out of the house.
Jordie swung open the door with a smirk, bowing theatrically. He lifted an eyebrow upon seeing Stella at his door. Stella frowned at him.
“Darling Stella! I must say: I wasn’t expecting to see your irritated face this morning” He laughed, pushing the dark hair out of his eyes.
“coffee now” Stella snapped.
“my goodness Stella! The rudeness!” He said in mock offense, placing a hand to his chest.
“cut the antics Jordan”
Jordie sagged. He hated when she called him by his real name. He wanted the nickname she had given him, he loved it when her lips formed the word Jordie.
“I’ll get the coffee Pristella” he bit back.
Jordie shrugged. “I don’t know your full name”
Stella sighed and waltzed into the house.
After a few cups of warm coffee Stella explained her anger for her governess choosing Crime and Punishment. Jordie adjusted his cuffs nervously as Stella talked about her mother’s library.
“You know, I think we should go to the library...” Jordie said.
“why? I’m sick of everyone”
Stella slammed her coffee on the table, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Jordie smirked, he always liked it when she had no manners.
“just trust me” He cooed, tilting his head.
Stella breathed in the smell of dusty paper and old novels. She sighed, watching the light dance in streams from the large French windows. Mother always loved this room...
Jordie flopped into one of the fancy leather chairs.
“I love being friends with rich people” He sighed, sinking into the cushions.
“shut up Jordie” Stella muttered, running her fingers over a shelf of books.
Jordie smiled. There it was: the word Jordie sitting perfectly on Stella’s lips.
“go get Crime and Punishment from the shelves Mrs.Cunnings” he directed, sinking further into the chair.
Stella climbed one of the ladders and pulled the book down. She walked over to Jordie, holding the book with reluctance as if it might explode.
Jordie patted his lap. “Come, I’ll read to you”
“I’m not sitting in your lap”
“whatever Pristella” He laughed, clasping his hands behind his head.
Stella toke a seat on the floor by Jordie’s chair. She opened the book, and a white paper flew out.
Jordie snatched it up.
“It's a letter,” he said, his eyebrows raised. “To the Galodin Prison Institution...”
“The Galodin w-what—?”
Suddenly all the horrific memories of that place flooded Stella’s mind. Mother visiting too often, talking with the prisoners. Stella screaming as someone from the cells had grabbed her ebony hair. The look on her mother's face when she visited that one man...
“Stella are you...okay?”
Jordie waved a hand in front of her face. Stella looked pale.
someone screaming. A man being beaten.
Tears. Her tears. Investigations. Losing her.
Running. Running anywhere. Slipping in blood.
“This has to do with your me-ma doesn't it?” He said, squinting at her. “Wasn’t she accused of helping a prisoner escape?”
“Y-yes” Stella choked.
Jordie swallowed. A feeling of guilt creeping up his throat.
“Why is this in here?” Stella asked, looking sadly at the old pages of the book.
“I’m not sure..” He muttered, but he knew why.
Jordie ripped open the letter, the sound of parchment cutting the air. He read it aloud:
The back wall of your cell looks dusty
you should clean it
“what’s that supposed to mean?” Stella asked, tilting her head.
“I think it means his cell is dirty” Jordie answered with sarcasm.
Stella ignored him. No one sends letters to a prison to say something about cleanliness...
“You think it's code?” She asked.
“ah! Your mind is beginning to work Mrs.Cunnings” Jordie chirped, raising a finger.
Jordie turned over the letter. “Look here Mrs. Cunnings” The back of the letter had something scrawled on it:
Second shelf, four steps, fifth spine, expect great things
“That's definitely code” said Stella, raising an eyebrow. What was her mother doing with these?
Jordie leaned on the arm rest and grasped his hair, thinking hard.
“second shelf, four steps, fifth spine, expect great things...” He muttered. “Expect great things, things are great to expect, great expecting, expectations are great...”
Stella watched him mumble, something like a memory came to her mind. A memory of a book—
“Great Expectations!” She shouted.
“The code! It’s directions to Great Expectations! Look see—“ Stella explained, pointing at the letter, then the second shelf in the library. “Second shelf” Stella moved her finger to the ladder “four steps” then she moved to a row of books “fifth spine”
“Hmm it seems you're onto something” Jordie said with a smirk.
Stella jumped up and climbed the latter, counting five book spines.
“here it is!”
Stella flipped open Great Expectations, four letters fell out of it. Jordie got up and caught them.
“looks like we have our answer” He said, examining them “all these letters are to and from the Galodin Prison Institution”
“why does my mom have these?” Stella asked, rubbing her shoulders. She suddenly felt a cold chill crawl up her spine...Maybe her mother really was... Maybe the maid servants and investigators were... Maybe—
“I don’t know, but let’s read them, this is getting interesting” Jordie insisted, spreading them out on the carpet. “Ahem” and he began reading each one:
prison wall cleaned, is your boat secure?
Yes the boat is secure, wait for the midnight chirp of the crickets. Clean the bars on your window, I can see how dirty they are from the beach
Cleaned the bars on the windows. Your quite cunning Mrs.C
Stella shivered. It all was making sense now. Terrible sense... Jordie continued to read as Stella rubbed her arms.
I am not cunning, and you still owe me a debt
“we need to bring these to the police” Stella choked, feeling dizzy. “Now”
“don’t you realize?!” Stella shouted, throwing her hands in the air.”My moms guilty! Their right, she was a criminal...‘You're quite cunning Mrs.C’ That’s Mrs.Cunnings, that’s my fricken mom! look at these letters... it's plain as day, ‘clean the bars on your window’ more like break the bars on your window. ‘Is the boat secure?’ ‘Wait for midnight’ these are directions on how to escape! My mom brought a boat to the shore of the prison...I remember when she did that, she said it was a donation to the prison...She’s—she’s a liar!”
Stella buried her head in her hands. Mother had been lying to her this whole time
“keep your voice down” Jordie hissed, placing a hand on her shoulder. “People are right outside that door”
Stella slapped his hand away.
“I don’t care Jordan!” She shouted, tears coming to her eyes. “My mom helped a murderer escape! A murderer, you know who Harold Grim is, that’s the man who killed someone right on our own street!”
Jordie’s eyes suddenly darkened. He clenched his fists.
“Maybe he was framed” Jordie bit at her.
“Oh so you're on the murderer’s side now?” Stella hissed.
“No, I’m just saying you have the wrong idea—“
“Harold is a murderer, and my mom is a criminal Jordan, wake up! You saw those letters and how they were hidden!” Stella yelled, eyes burning into him.
Jordie couldn’t take her attacking people he cared about. He grabbed both Stella’s arms and pinned her against the bookcase.
“Harold isn’t guilty” he growled into her ear “And neither is your mom for saving him”
A tear rolled down Stella’s cheek, her eyes flashing with fear.
“I-I don’t understand,” Stella cried. “I don’t know what you want!”
Jordie released her, and walked to the fireplace, ripping a hand through his dark hair.
“I-I’m sorry Stella, I never should have—“ Jordie faltered, regretting everything. He was an idiot. “Harold Grim is my brother”
“Harold is—“ Stella started in shock.
“Your mom saved him, Stella, he was framed” Jordie pressed, twisting another knot of dark hair.
Stella sat down in the leather chair and raised her hand to her forehead. Her hands were cold and shaky. “Your mom isn’t guilty Stella, I asked her to save my brother” Jordie insisted. He came and stood by her, looking intently in her eyes. Stella rubbed her forehead.
“W-what should we do with those then—?” Stella asked, pointing shakily to the letters strode across the floor. This was all too confusing...
“Burn them,” Jordie decided. “I’ll start the fire”
He walked over to the fireplace and began stacking logs into it. He lit a match, and flames erupted from the kindling.
Stella got up and shakily gathered the letters.
She threw them in the fire.
The fire grasped them with a greedy hand, as edges of parchment began curling up in black ribbons. Stella sighed and sat down on the floor.
“It’s going to be okay Stella” Jordie whispered, watching the fire glow on her face.
Stella nodded, keeping her eyes trained on the burning letters, making sure they really burned. She wanted to forget tonight ever happened. Jordie walked over to the leather chair and flopped into the cushions.
He patted his lap. “C’mere, I’ll read to you” He said, smirking.
He picked up Great Expectations and waved it coaxingly in front of Stella. “You know you want to...”
“You're such an idiot Jordie” Stella laughed, rolling her eyes. “But—fine”
She got up and walked over to Jordie, who was smiling like an idiot. She jumped into his lap and looped her hands around the back of his neck.
“Read Jordie” she whispered in his ear.
“At your service Mrs.Cunnings”
He put one arm around Stella’s waist and used the other to prop up the book. “Great Expectations by Charles Dickens...” he began, a smile emerging on his face. Stella rested her head on his shoulder.
A small pang of fear pricked Jordie. He knew he shouldn’t be this close to Stella...He remembered the deal he’d made with Stella’s mother. The debt he still owed. If the time came, he’d have to give his life to their family. Stella’s mother had a job she needed him to carry out: A heist. Mrs.Cunnings may have saved his brother, but she was no saint, her services weren’t free. Mrs.Cunnings had strict orders regarding their deal: He was never to tell Stella, or become close to her. He was to burn the letters and leave. Mrs.Cunnings told him he wasn’t a friend to their family anymore, he was a servant. He would be indebted to her until the heist was carried out.
He was risking his life by keeping Stella in his lap.
Jordie didn’t care.
He would outsmart Stella’s mother, and he’d remain alive to tell about it. He would tell Stella the truth, and he would become close to her. Screw the risks. Stella was worth the risks.
Stella smiled up at him as he read.
“What are you thinking about Jordie?” She laughed, tilting her head.
Jordie realized he was staring intensely at the wall
“Oh, I just plan to expect great things…” he said, smirking.
“Your an idiot”
“That’s probably true Mrs.Cunnings”
Stella laughed. Jordie smiled at her, and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Yes, Stella was most definitely worth all the risks. All the risks in the world.